Then the king gave the command, and Daniel was brought and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!” A stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, so that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel.
—Daniel 6: 16-17
Being “thrown to the lions”—fortunately, this is just a figure of speech today, but we all know what it means: We’re defenseless against a far superior foe.
In the case of Daniel, who by the time of this incident was roughly 80 years old, we find a trusted and competent satrap—or governor—who is envied by the lesser rulers around him. Resentful of his success and favor with the king, Darius of Persia, they look for some fault to bring him down. But they fail.
What they find instead is a man who throughout his life has been faithful to his principles and to his God; despite pressure to adopt the beliefs and rituals of the people in power, he remains committed to his own spiritual practices. In short, he is just the sort of person that the envious love to hate.
Unable to bring Daniel up on legitimate charges, his enemies talk the king into creating a new law: anyone who does not recognize Darius as a god will be thrown to the lions. All that is left to do now is to catch Daniel at prayer, not a difficult feat given that he routinely prays three times a day.
Soon afterward, Daniel’s enemies do indeed apprehend him and take him to stand before the king. Darius is nonplussed. Realizing that he has been tricked by the rulers and trapped by his own action, he considers what to do. He has no grievance against Daniel; in fact, their religious differences notwithstanding, he respects the man for his faithfulness.
Ultimately, however, Darius knows he is beaten. He can do nothing but honor the process he has set in motion. But ironically, he sends Daniel to the lion’s den with a blessing: “May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you.”
The following morning, Darius has the den unsealed and waits nervously to see what has happened. He calls out, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” To his great surprise, Daniel responds: “O king, live for ever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions' mouths and they have not hurt me....” Daniel has been delivered, but his enemies don’t fare nearly so well; Darius has the other rulers and their families thrown to the lions, who promptly kill them all.
It would be tempting to conclude from this story that God always rescues those who are faithful. But fast-forwarding to the early Christian era would show otherwise: the list of martyrs lost to the lions and other beasts, not to mention those who were crucified or killed by gladiators, is long. Can we say that God simply abandoned these? Not at all.
While Daniel is certainly an example of faithfulness, we can’t realistically say that all of our experiences of struggle will conclude as happily. What we can say, however, is that regardless of what happens, regardless of the depth of our despair or fear, God will be with us to the end.
O God, in the midst of danger, in the midst of fear, in the midst of my darkest night, may you be a constant presence in my heart.